PORTLAND -- How long was your commute? Across the Metro area, drivers found their afternoon travel time tripled or worse by the snowstorm that moved into the area midday.
The flakes started falling just before noon and another 1 to 4 inches were expected through 7 p.m., according to KGW Meteorologist Rod Hill.
A fatal accident near Ridgefield snarled traffic on I-5 north of the Metro area. The interstate was closed or delayed most of the day both north- and south-bound near Albany by an early, multi-car crash. Late in the evening commute, I-5 northbound at Barbur was brought to a halt as several semitrucks spun out on slick roads. Similar problems were reported on main arterials across the Metro area.
Drivers scrambled to get home before nightfall but many who left early found they arrived at the usual time due to congested roadways, and the evening commute was one of the worst this area has seen in years.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation could do little because even though the city has 55 trucks equipped with plows, they are "ineffective" on the light, dry snow, according to PBOT spokeswoman Diane Dulken.
As snow accumulated into the evening, plows were able to take to the streets and clear roadways.
"There's no solution at this point, except to tell drivers to leave plenty of time and know that it will take a while to get home," Dulken said. "Deicing is a preventative measure. We already laid out 10,000 gallons of deicer. It helps, but it doesn't cure it."
TriMet equipped buses with chains and put as many into service as possible, to try and keep up with the unexpected exodus out of the city. But passengers were still having to wait in long lines at stops, some watching in frustration as buses too full to take on more passengers drove right on by.
"Driving is treacherous on some roads, we are doing the best that we can," said TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch.
Temperatures were expected to drop to around 20 degrees Thursday night.
"Overnight, we'll see flurries with steady temperatures," Hill said. "Then on Friday, we will see flurries and light snow showers turn back into steady, heavier snow late into the day or evening."
The National Weather Service issued Winter Storm Warnings for the Vancouver and Portland Metro areas, Central Willamette Valley and the Columbia River Gorge. They warned of dangerous driving conditions, up to 7 inches of snow accumulation, high east winds, and occasional blizzard conditions.
Portland Public Schools announced they would be closed on Friday, and many other school districts also announced Friday closures.
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A second storm was setting up to hit Portland even harder on Saturday.
"We could see snow or freezing rain all day long on Saturday," KGW Chief Meteorologist Matt Zaffino said. "Parts of the mid valley may get 6 to 12 inches of snow and the Columbia River Gorge could be very bad."
Zaffino added that the length of time that each type of precipitation lasts will be key.
"It's possible Portland will see 2 to 6 inches of snow and a quarter to a half-inch of ice," he said.
On Sunday, temperatures will warm above freezing and it will be all rain. Rain and mountain snow will continue on and off next week.